To Recline or not to Recline?

I have done a lot of flying. As a pilot or passenger, I’ve spent loads of time in airplanes, both large and small. I am intimately acquainted with how cramped the environment is and getting into the pilot’s seat often feels a bit like I’m a puzzle piece squeezing into my slot.

I’ve banged my knees, whacked my head, knocked my elbows and thumped myself in innumerable other places getting in and out of pilot seats and airplanes. They are not built to be places of sprawling comfort. Anyone who has ever been on an airplane of any size knows that.

So, what about the argument around seats? That is, do you recline or don’t you?

I don’t recline. Neither does my 191 cm (6 ft 3 in) husband. And frankly, I get a little irritated when others do, especially if I’m trying to use my little table for whatever reason: working, eating, sleeping (yes, I sometimes sleep on the table). I don’t want a strange person in my lap, and I’m sure the people behind me don’t want me in their laps.

We’re all in this cramped space together, so let’s try to be as respectful and careful with each other as we can. That’s how I see it, anyway.

However, that’s often not how these things go.

Recently, a man aboard a commercial flight in the US began banging on the seat of the person ahead of him because she had reclined. Here’s the article:

Part of the problem is that airlines have crammed people in, but I also understand about the narrow margins on which airlines operate. And to be fair, this has been a problem for many, many years. I remember my mother complaining about the “recliners” when I was a child.

What is your opinion? Should airlines remove the recline function on airplane seats? Should we avoid using the recline function out of respect for our flight mates?

29 thoughts on “To Recline or not to Recline?”

  1. I won’t fly. It has nothing to do with planes or pilots and everything to do with passengers. My probable response to the guy punching the headrest, had that been my headrest, would likely have earned me a trip to jail. I’m sure that guy felt he was within his rights, just like the guy who thinks he has a right to sit halfway in my lap because he’s too cheap to buy a seat that’s wide enough to accommodate his ass.
    Some people may have back and/or neck issues and need to recline to relieve their pain and discomfort. Other people, probably many more people, have to make a concerted effort to contract their bubble of personal space just to get on a plane, much less to get into a seat next to someone who is going to crowd them the whole time. Then there are those who have religious objections to bathing, those who can’t shut up, those who won’t shut up, the list goes on and on.
    Bottom line: Commercial air travel is misery and the only thing to do is embrace it. We’re all at least a little bit miserable and it’s doubtful that complaining incessantly is going to improve anyone’s experience. So, after all that, I’m going to say don’t recline. You don’t want to wake the fussy cranky baby behind you.

    1. Great comment, Kenny, and so true. 🙂

      Flying, especially if it’s a long haul flight, has become an exercise in discomfort for most of us. All we can do is try to be as mindful of each other as we can.

    2. I had a baby in a bassinette and an active toddler on a twenty-four hour flight. Total nightmare for us. The baby was fine but dealing with an active toddler was not fun. At least these days they have video playees etc.

  2. I don’t fly. I have, needed to be heavily medicated to do so, probably won’t do it again if I have any choice at all about it (fear and motion sickness are a nasty combination, let me tell you).

    That said, it is a situation similar to forced small space contact like theaters and public transportation that is made exponentially more problematic on airplanes because there is so much less space. I’m a short person (5’3″) and felt ridiculously crammed the last time I was forced to fly. I have no clue how anyone with any height at all can stand it. My hubby is around 6′ and really struggled.

    I’m not sure I even understand why seats are still designed in a way that allows for reclining in the first place. I could understand allowing for an adjustment in the tilt a bit, but not enough to interfere with the seat behind them. I can also understand that there may be those that need that accommodation for some reason, but it needs to be handled in a way that doesn’t impact other passengers. Like only having reclining seats that back the emergency door, having those spaces grouped with accessible spaces or something similar.

    For me, this is as much a problem on the airlines and manufacturing as it is on the people. People are going to be jerks when given the room to do so. Limiting their ability would solve a whole lot of problems.

    1. Thanks for your great comment. 🙂

      I think the airlines are part of the problem (for sure) but customers want to have cheaper service too, so I think the blame can be spread around a bit.

      I don’t think that the reclining seats are going to last long – they will wind up being a perk that people will have to pay extra for. All it will take is one airline to start doing that.

      I’m sorry to hear that flying is so difficult for you. Research shows that most people have some fear of flying, everything from mild discomfort to panic, so you actually have lots of company.

      1. I kind of hate it because I have a small group of friends that are spread all over the country and almost every single one of them is well over a day’s drive to get to, so visits are almost impossible.

        The last time I flew, I had to take enough Dramamine to nearly knock me out and it wore off about the time we were in decent. I spent the entire weekend stressed about the flight home and had a hard time enjoying myself.

        Sadly, too many people that don’t have that kind of fear just don’t seem to understand how bad it is and think it is stupid that I don’t just “get over it”.

        1. Easy for them to say! In my little opinion, there’s no such thing as just “getting over it.” What are you supposed to do? Reach into your brain and flip a switch? If it were easy, you would do it!
          Not being able to easily visit with your friends is unfortunate. As I get older, my long-term friends have grown more and more in importance, so I’m really sorry to hear that.

  3. I only recline my seat if I’m on an overnight flight and the majority of passengers are sleeping. Other than that, upright all the way. I’ve had to ask people to pull their seats back up when I was eating and they did but as soon as I put my tray up, they put their seat back and I was so irritated with them, lol. I’m generally irritated with people on airplanes anyway though because we’re all so crammed in there. I need space and you just don’t get that when you fly. Even if you’re in the comfier classes.

    1. Yes, it’s such a cramped environment and let’s face it, people aren’t usually at their best. They’re tired (and maybe totally jetlagged) and have probably had to practically undress who-knows-how-many times to get through security. People need a little slack, but they also need to give it, too.

  4. I don’t want to get too wound up about this one (which I have a tendency to do). I’ll just say that I haven’t been on a plane in 20 years, but from what I remember, those seats barely reclined one inch (2.5cm). I remember reclining my seat and feeling like it didn’t even move. I was still sitting upright and didn’t see the point in the recliner function at all.

    1. They used to recline 10 cm (4 inches)! 5 cm is now pretty standard as airlines have shrunk the space between the seats. But I think the reclining seat is going to become something you only find on the very long-haul flights (or they become a perk that you pay extra for). In the end, it’s all about money (the airlines want profits, customers want lower fares). We have an ad on tv here that shows cows lining up to board aircraft. Yup, lots of herding going on.

  5. Flying is a chore, not a pleasure and a very expensive one at that. I’m sure that ‘flight -rage’ is becoming a more common occurrence these days. I never recline my seat all the way, but always seem to get behind someone who does. I’ve even had people in front of me leaning forward to eat, with their seat still fully reclined. 😳 If only people would be more considerate of their fellow passengers.

    1. I’ve loved flying all my life, and it’s been a shame to watch it become, as you say, a chore. The leaning forward to eat while leaving the seat reclined is so completely thoughtless and rude. I agree, people need to be more considerate. That attitude can work miracles.

  6. I never recline, unless I am in the back row (although those seats don’t always have that option) or there is clearly no one behind me.

    I think this situation has become an issue for two reasons, both of them building over time. One, let’s be real, the airlines/manufacturers have decreased the amount of personal space to such a degree that one is uncomfortable, regardless of the reclining. (Back in the day, you could flop your seat back and never even get near the other person.)

    I understand cost-effectiveness and the need to maximize passenger occupancy. On the flip side, I would fly more often (thus increasing revenues) if the experience wasn’t so miserable. It seems to me that some airline executives are ignoring this angle.

    Two, and this is more important, people are just not as polite as they used to be. Well, some people. I have been on flights where everyone was lovely and we all worked together to get through it all. I have also been on flights where some of the people around me were self-centered asses, completely oblivious to how their actions affect others.Some people should not be allowed in public. And that’s not the fault of the airlines…

    1. I agree that there is myopia on the part of airline management. But the flying public complains a lot about ticket costs, too, so I see this as something of a two-way street. However, you raise a very good point. How many people would fly more often if the experience was more pleasant?
      The space between seats has really decreased over the years (most seats can only recline half as much as they used to, as well) just as we have all gotten rather larger. But yes, we all need to be better with each other, too, and more so if we are forced into tight quarters with total strangers.

  7. I’ve only been on air airplane twice in my life (a round trip 19 years ago)… but that return flight was jam packed, and my back was locked up for several days after getting off that plane! I’m not sure reclining would have done me much good anyway… I’m too fidgety and don’t like being in the same position for too long.

    1. This is definitely not a good environment for someone who needs to do lots of fidgeting and moving about. Really, it’s starting to become quite an endurance course for most people, regardless of the need to stretch or move.

  8. I don’t recline either and rarely have people recline into me. It’s allowed so if they do, I’m OK with it. I sure loved flying Business Class where there was more room!

    1. Airbus will stop production of that aircraft next year in 2021. It’s known as a “super jumbo,” large and comfortable. However, its size is both its best characteristic and its worst. Loads of room and perks aboard, but the fuel and maintenance costs are huge. Four giant engines and loads of other moving parts, to say nothing of the many seats, all of which require cleaning and repair. Most airlines find them too expensive to run, so Airbus will soon stop building them.

  9. I have travelled to Australia by train. It was worse, plus we had a boiler catch fire in our carriage in the middle of Siberia. We had been crammed in with trader’s goods. Let’s just say I am cured of my desire for long adventurous train journeys. I would love to do it by sea one day

    1. Yikes! That’s awful! I bet you have been cured! 😳
The only long train journeys I’ve done have been in Europe and Canada and for the most part, they were really great, especially the European ones. I like sea travel, but my stomach is really stable and I don’t get motion sick. I’ve seen it happen to others though.

  10. I believe that as people we ought to be respectful of the already “cramped” space, as you pointed out. I never recline for that very reason, coupled with the fact that I am tall and do not wish to put anyone else out. A child kicking your seat from the back is another point of contention.
    Love the topic.

    1. Thank you. 🙂

      A child kicking – yes, I forgot about that one! Then there are the children who start running around, but that doesn’t have anything to do with reclining.

      My husband is tall – 190.5 – and for the most part finds flying difficult. I always make sure he’s at least on an aisle. But he gets really squished if the person ahead reclines the seat.

      It’s all about being respectful to each other, especially when the conditions aren’t ideal.

      1. To be raised even more valid points. The world at large seems only consumed with themselves.
        Then there is the compulsory bathroom flyer! Constantly easing out the rows with their bum in your face as they go by. Lol

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